Bear collecting, or arctophilia to give it its proper name, has become a popular hobby in recent years. Most people can remember and feel nostalgic about their own old teddy, and bears in general have a feel good factor that most people can relate to.
If you decide to start a bear collection, it is a good idea to be armed with some information. Firstly try and acquire a bit of knowledge before buying. You may wish to limit your collection to a certain make of bear, or maybe bears originating from a particular country.
There are a number of very good reference books on the market which will help you identify the different types of ted that you may come across. You will find that most older bears, particularly pre 1950 do not have labels or id. Bears that are most likely to have some sort of identifying labels on are the English factories of Chad Valley and Merrythought, and of course the "bear" name that everyone has heard of, the German bear factory, Steiff. Even so, it was common among parents to remove labels from bears, and the button (as in the Button in ear of the Steiff bear) in case it became a choking hazard. Steiff was not the only company to use a button, Chad Valley and Merrythought both did so around the 1930s on various parts of the bears' bodies.
It is worth bearing in mind that it is quite unusual to find a bear of 50 plus years old in pristine condition. I have handled many hundreds of bears over the years and most will have had some signs of age, in fact, I would suggest caution if a bear appears "too new" or in exceptional condition. There are fakes on the market which are sold either deliberately or unwittingly as old, and also some artist bears may be passed off as older than they actually are by the unscrupulous.
You may decide to clean your bear you get it home. Many old bears have been kept in attics in varying temperatures before being sold, and may acquire dust, general grubbiness, or even the odd insect. This may sound offputting, but there are effective ways of dealing with any undesirables. It is a good idea to "freeze" your bear if you're not sure where he has been, to make sure there is nothing "living" on him. This is quite standard practice, and double bagging him and putting him in a freezer for a few days will sort him out.
Cleaning can make a big difference to your bear. Here at Old Teddies we always clean each new arrival, but if you buy yours from someone who does not specialise in bears, Ted may need a bit of a spruce up. It is always advisable to approach any cleaning of your bear gently without putting stress on any of the joints or allowing him to get wet.
The first step is to get rid of surface dust with the aid of a brush or even a gentle setting on a hand held vacuum cleaner. If the bear is particularly grubby, some bear owners use a "bran bath" which means covering him in bran in a bag and leaving him overnight so that the bran absorbs some of the dirt. When the bear is removed any remaining bran is gently hoovered away. This is quite a useful method of cleaning for furless bears.
The other standard way of cleaning a bear's fur is to mix up a bowl of soap suds and carefully use the foam to agitate it. The trick is to try not to get the underlying material wet. The fabric of elderly bears can in some cases be very delicate and can literally disintegrate when wet, particularly if you have dark discolouration, this can often be a problem around the nose area. A light damp sponge will help remove the soap, any excess moisture can be absorbed by a towel, and Ted left to dry naturally. Once dry, his fur can be gently brushed up.
If you are not confident about approaching a clean yourself, especially if your bear is valuable, I would suggest sending him to a bear restorer, a number of which can be found online.